In utopian societies, life is perfect. To young Sungju Lee, this was North Korea. His father, an army general, was his greatest hero. Someday, Sungju would fight in the North Korean army to beat the nasty Americans and cruel South Koreans. In fact, when he was little, he and his father used to play a game with his father teaching young Sungju the ways of war. North Korea would always win, for in Sungju’s mind, it was the best country in the world! One of the strategies he used was a series of stones. If a hideout was overtaken or deemed unsafe for the soldiers to return to, stones would be placed in front. Little did Sungju know, this strategy would save his life.
One day, Sungju came home from school to find his parents packing up their things. Sungju wondered if they were going to vacation to the ocean like he wanted. But, instead they were going to the country. Sungju then asked about where his dog would go while the Lees were on vacation. His mother shamed him for asking, and Sungju felt bad. He needed to be a good son so he could be in the regime and in the ranks of North Korea’s Eternal Leader, Kim II-sung. As time passed and despite his complaints, Sungju would never return to Pyongyang.
Throughout the author’s heartbreaking story, I kept trying to push him forward. I thought of the song “When You Believe” sung by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. The lyrics speak of hope, and it was this hope which I was trying to infuse in Lee. He endured many hardships at the tender age of 11 and suffered for five years before finally escaping the torment of his country. Compared to other books highlighting political struggles and the impact on its citizens, this was one of the most compelling stories. Unlike Chinese Cinderella, a deeply saddening story of a disowned little girl, everybody around Sungju loved him. They were trying their hardest to make ends meet, but to say more would take away from Sungju’s story.
On a scale of 1 to10, Every Falling Star definitely deserves a 9 for its well-written passages and amazingly illustrated emotion. Because Lee was not a native English speaker, when he came to the United States, he received help from Susan McClelland to lay out his story. After finishing the book, I read an excerpt from him, saying that many of the characters’ (family members and brothers) names were changed because they were still living in North Korea. This was done to protect them. Please check out this book and be drawn into an intriguing story of overcoming life’s worst obstacles.
Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.